I was on a panel this morning about the 2006 elections with twoconsultants–Republican Ed Rollins and Democrat Doug Schoen–andTime magazine columnist Joe Klein. The conversation was fairlycivil. After all, the early morning event at the tony Regency Hotel inmidtown Manhattan was sponsored by The Common Good, a group dedicatedto civil discourse on current affairs.
So, I’m not sure why Joe Klein turned on me with such ferocity halfwaythrough the panel, virtually grilling me like the drill sergeant henever was: “Do you even know what counterinsurgency is?” (This afterKlein argued that we were making real progress in Iraq because Iraqiand US forces were embarking on a door-to-door sweep to secureBaghdad.) Klein is certainly entitled to his views about Iraq and thenature of occupations–however uninformed. But for a man who preachesabout the need to restore civility in American political life, he isa hypocrite.
Put aside my morning encounter with the man, but in these last weeksKlein has been all too quick to label those who disagree with his viewsabout national security and Iraq as people with a “hate Americatendency” His favorites are “many writers at The Nation andMichael Moore.” As Paul Krugman wrote last week, ” That’s a grosslyunfair characterization.”
Klein seems to have a desire to depict all of the American left, andtoo many good liberals, as crazy, malign or unpatriotic. Consider howKlein recently assailed John Conyers, the courageous and distinguishedCongressman who will be chair of the Judiciary Committee if theDemocrats win control of the House in November. Klein wrote of Conyers,”…in addition to being foolishly incendiary, he is an AfricanAmerican of a certain age and ideology, easily stereotyped byRepublicans. He is one of the ancient band of left-liberals who grew upin the angry hothouse of inner-city, racial-preference politics…” Klein is certainly making Karl Rove’s job easier.
After the panel, I pulled out something I’d written a few weeks ago,replying to Klein’s ugly charge that “many writers at TheNation” were examples of people with a “hate America tendency”:
I am not sure exactly who Joe Klein has in mind when he says ‘many writers at The Nation.’ We have a range of scholars, public policy analysts and writers who cover US foreign policy but none of them would fit that ugly label. Since when it is anti-American to believe that American foreign policy ought to be consistent with international law, that the use of military force should be limited to legitimate self-defense or sanctioned by international organizations, that American foreign policy should be democratically accountable and guided by American republican principles, that the United States should not only oppose empires but eschew imperial policies, that wherever possible the United States should act like a good neighborhood in trying to work with other nations to solve common problems, and that the United States should promote the advancement of human rights, shared prosperity, and ecological sustainability.
“Many of the writers at The Nation opposed the Iraq war not because they hate America because they understood that Iraq posed no threat to the United States or to regional security and that a crusade to remake the Middle East would be resisted by the great majority of people in the Middle East and would more likely create chaos and more terrorism that it would advance the cause of democracy. Klein is either lazy in that he has not read the Nation writers he seeks to smear or is trying to score cheap political points by dismissing the left so as to establish his own hawkish centrist credentials. Or perhaps he understands America less than he would like his readers to believe because he is uncomfortable with the American tradition of principled dissent and with The Nation’s faith in the common sense of the American public as a source of democratic accountability.
If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. If you’re going to preach political civility, the very least you could do, Joe, is be civil–even to those you disagree with.